Peter Dutton accuses Shane Bazzi of malice over abusive tweets in defamation case

Peter Dutton has accused refugee activist Shane Bazzi of showing malice, in the minister’s defamation suit, citing a tweet labelling him a “cunt” and a “fucken scumbag”.

Dutton is suing Bazzi over a tweet labelling him a “rape apologist”, making good on his threats to pursue social media users for allegedly false and defamatory statements.

Bazzi has deleted the tweet but is defending the case after Dutton decided to pursue him for an apology and damages.

The accusation of malice is contained in Dutton’s reply submissions, which also claim that the activist has further demeaned the defence minister by statements suggesting he is suppressing free speech by bringing the case.

Bazzi denies that he defamed Dutton and is using the defences of fair comment and honest opinion, invoking Dutton’s record as home affairs minister and his statement that he didn’t know the “she said, he said” details of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’s allegation of rape.

In his reply, filed in the federal court on Thursday, Dutton argues that Bazzi cannot rely on honest opinion because his “rape apologist” tweet was “actuated by actual malice”.

Dutton cited a further tweet on 4 March, in which Bazzi said: “Dutton is a rape apologist and a fascist who abuses women and children. The cunt continues to sink to new lows defending [Christian] Porter, attacking the media, lying about the allegations being ‘unfounded’ and Porter ‘cleared by police’, using the family’s grief. Fucken scumbag.”

The reply complained that this “repeated the accusation that the applicant was ‘a rape apologist’ and referred to [Dutton] as ‘the cunt’ and as a ‘fucken scumbag’”.

Bazzi’s tweet linked to an SBS article in which Dutton described Porter’s denial of a historical rape allegation as “gutsy”. Police shut down their investigation into the allegation against Porter when the complainant withdrew from the investigation shortly before taking her life.

In his reply, Dutton also complained of a statement Bazzi made through his lawyers, O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, and the preamble to Bazzi’s crowdfund campaign, which has raised $152,000 for his defence.

The solicitors’ statement said that Dutton’s decision to sue Bazzi “for having this opinion raises genuine concerns about freedom of speech in Australia”.

The crowdfund preamble urged potential donors not to “let a powerful politician shut down the critique and commentary of an activist”.

“Historically, defamation laws have too often been used by the powerful (including politicians) as a tool to stop free speech and silence critics,” it said.

Dutton’s reply accused Bazzi of seeking to characterise the case as “an attempt by [Dutton] to suppress free public discussion of … matters of public interest”.

He suggested Bazzi’s purpose was to “further … demean [Dutton] in the community and to attempt collaterally to dampen [Dutton’s] resolve to vindicate his reputation in this proceeding”.

Bazzi’s original tweet included a link to a June 2019 Guardian Australia article reporting comments the then home affairs minister had made on Sky News alleging women had been “trying it on” in claiming they were raped and needed an abortion as part of a ploy to get to Australia for medical treatment from detention centres on Nauru.

Dutton submitted that this material and the “she said, he said” comment could not – even in combination – justify the conclusion he was a “rape apologist”.

He submitted there was “no reason to think that any or even most of the people who might see” the tweet would have been aware of the material said to justify it.

Earlier in June, the federal court ordered Dutton and Bazzi to attend mediation, after justice Richard White said the case was not among the court’s biggest and could be settled pre-trial.

Nevertheless, neither of the parties’ lawyers held out hope the case could be settled by mediation.

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